The final season of The Walking Dead, season 11, is due to start later this year, and yet somehow we still have 30 episodes left of AMC’s flagship series. With a final season booked to be 50% longer at 24 episodes, there’s still a lot of story left to tell, but the network wasn’t going to sit idly through a pandemic while its chief money maker withered like a zed in the sun. Episode 17 of season 10, “Home Sweet Home,” kicks off a six-episode mini-arc, unplanned originally and tacked on last-minute to get the show through the pandemic hiatus. You’d think that means it’s going to be bad. So why isn’t it?
“Home Sweet Home” focuses largely on Maggie as she reintegrates herself into the Alexandria community, and right away that’s a story beat fans have been clamoring for. Where has she been? Why is she back? And what happens now that she and Negan, her husband’s murderer, are once more occupying the same space? Working quickly, the show answers all of these questions in this episode, though we certainly haven’t seen the end of that last conflict.
My expectations were low for these bonus episodes because it seemed to come together haphazardly, yet, as I watched it, I couldn’t find any sense of it being filmed under unique or troubling conditions. Much of the episode does focus on a small number of characters exclusively, but by the end, they’re walking through the crowded streets of Alexandria. It was weird, but assuming everyone stayed safe, I’m now more optimistic about these episodes.
In the episode’s best scene, Maggie and Daryl share a whispered heart-to-heart that at once made me nostalgic for the Darabont years while also appreciative that we still have a few cast members from those times on the show today. Two new characters not in the comics come with Maggie in Elijah and Cole, and they were surprisingly endearing right away, even as one of them seems to have taken a voluntary vow of silence.
Kelly’s involvement with the small group in “Home Sweet Home” has caused her to surge up my personal rankings of my favorite characters. Her ASL dialogue with Daryl has been sweet to see come together as they depict a greater understanding on Daryl’s end every week, while her quest to find her sister Connie, whom the audience knows to be alive last we checked, is so easy to root for.
A new enemy threat made just for the show, the Reapers, has me curious. Previous pivots away from the comic have been hit or miss, but as I’ve said in past reviews, Angela Kang seems to have reinvigorated this show with something close to a sense of class it’s been missing since season 2. Even when the action kicked off and our heroes had to fight back against a small horde of walkers, I was a bit disappointed. I was fully on board with a quiet character study episode. Thankfully, modern The Walking Dead can juggle both at once.
My biggest burning question outside of the Reapers’ introduction is how these six episodes will flow into the final season. Will they feel like their own arc, following the same band of characters for six episodes and rerouting the plot back toward what’s to come in the final season? My guess is yes, but I’m okay with that. If the rest of season 10 can stay about this good, there will be no room for doubt that The Walking Dead is in great hands for its home stretch. This cast and crew had to adjust on the fly and, so far, has pulled it off. There’s plenty of time for this to go sideways, but by focusing on legacy favorites like Daryl, Carol, and Maggie and using these Darabontians to lift up the newcomers, we may be on route to a great extended season and, more importantly, a finale worthy of this series’s enduring place in pop culture.